Academic journal article Journal of Small Business Management

Employee Drug Testing: Aalberts and Walker Revisited

Academic journal article Journal of Small Business Management

Employee Drug Testing: Aalberts and Walker Revisited

Article excerpt


In discussing types of drug tests, Aalberts and Walker (1988) gave a succinct description of the widely used enzyme multiplied immunoassay technique (EMIT) test. According to Bible (1987), EMIT is the most used drug screening test, and also has "the greatest potential for inaccuracy." To be specific, in drug testing an inverse relationship exists between cost of the test and accuracy (Imwinkelried 1987). Aalberts and Walker conceded EMIT is relatively inexpensive yet often inaccurate; this relationship needs to be emphasized to a small business owner.

A specific problem with the EMIT, as well as even the most expensive drug tests, is the number of false positives which occur any time an employee is incorrectly identified as being a drug user (Bible 1987, Panner and Christakis 1986, Veglahn 1988). Aalberts and Walker said only that with EMIT the percentage of false positives is 5 to 20 percent. However, error rates of 25 percent to 97 percent have been widely reported in field studies of commonly used broad-spectrum tests (Bible 1988, Muczyk and Heshizer 1988, Rothman 1988). False positives can occur with EMIT if the employee has ingested any of the following: poppy seeds, ibuprofen, Midol or Dristan, the prescription antibiotic amoxicillin, quinine water, aspirin, or codeine (Bible 1987, Lowell 1988, Wrich 1988). A pertinent point omitted by Aalberts and Walker is that the EMIT is so unreliable that termination of employees based solely on EMIT results has been ruled to be unreasonable, thus opening the small business owner to the possibility of a wrongful discharge lawsuit (Bible 1987, Reichenberg 1988).

Admittedly, if EMIT is followed by a confirmatory test, the accuracy rate is over 99 percent (Flannery 1987, Verespej 1988). However, a point overlooked by Aalberts and Walker is the tendency of small business owners to omit the expensive confirmatory tests, as experts estimate each analysis may cost from $100 (Bible 1987) to as much as $150 (Imwinkelried 1987). However, unconfirmed drug detection tests are not legally defensible (Hoyt et al. 1987, Veglahn 1988), nor are they reliable as measures of drug intoxication (Bible 1987, Masters 1988, Reichenberg 1988).

These confirmation tests are necessary, as courts will reinstate with back pay an employee who was dismissed for testing positive on an initial test unless a confirmatory test is conducted (Muczk and Heshizer 1988). Therefore, several states are now requiring expensive confirmatory testing (Reichenberg 1988). Heshizer and Muczyk (1988) also emphasized the need for confirmatory tests, and discussed a case in which an unconfirmed drug test was used as the basis for an employee discharge. In that case, the employee was awarded $200,000 for defamation.

The cost of drug testing even without a confirmatory test may be prohibitive for a small business. For a small business of 50 employees who are tested twice a year, annual costs can exceed $4,000 (Rosen 1987). This does not take into account the costly confirmation tests. If the test is challenged, expert testimony regarding the test and laboratory procedures will cost from under $1,000 to over $6,000; these figures do not include legal fees but only costs relevant to the testing laboratory (Hoyt et al. 1987).



Aalberts and Walker discussed in one paragraph on page 55 the concern of chain of custody. The legal requirement of chain of custody "... refers to the ability to trace a sample from the time it is provided by the employee or job applicant through all the steps in the testing and analysis process" (Rosen 1987). This legal requirement is viewed by many employees as a costly and humiliating requirement. However, if chain of custody is not adequately documented, an employee discharge may be overturned by an arbitrator (Veglahn 1988). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.